A College Discussion Leads To An Improvised Jam Session — And 'Seraphic Light'

Jul 30, 2018
Originally published on August 3, 2018 11:23 am
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Last year, Daniel Carter, who plays several wind instruments, pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker played a college concert near Boston under unusual circumstances. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead picks up the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART II")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Last year, Tufts University hosted a symposium on art, race and politics in America, which included a panel discussion with Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp and William Parker. The Tufts Daily didn't report on it. But as this happened in April 2017, and since these committed improvisors are not shy about expressing sharp opinions, it's safe to say it was a lively exchange of views. Many observers and players have heard political implications in improvised music - rowdy stuff to storm the barricades. Following their panel, the musicians extemporized a concert now out as the album "Seraphic Light." Here's how it starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART I")

WHITEHEAD: That's not storming the barricades. That's continuing their verbal discussion by other means. This organized musical conversation is a reminder that free improvisation isn't a style, frantic or otherwise, but a way of making music. These three players have long experience in the field. They speak the same language and know how to move the conversation along, how to modulate from one tempo to another or shift the spotlight from one player to another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART I")

WHITEHEAD: Daniel Carter on trumpet, Matthew Shipp on piano, and William Parker on bass. Concerts held in resonant rooms don't always make for great recordings, but here the room sound becomes part of the music. The players factor it in. Daniel Carter is in many ways the key figure here. He keeps a cool head when he solos and demarcates different sections in a continuous improvisation by switching among various instruments, something Sam Rivers used to do. Over the course of the concert, Carter plays flute, clarinet, tenor, alto and soprano saxes and trumpet with or without a mute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART I")

WHITEHEAD: Daniel Carter's cool as a soloist helps tamp down pianist Matthew Shipp's exuberance, the better to expose William Parker's rhythmic and melodic bass counterpoint. They even hint at the open lyricism of a parallel '60s trio led by Carter's one-time teacher Jimmy Giuffre.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART II")

WHITEHEAD: In its own way, free music proposes a model for social interaction, antiauthoritarian and pro-democracy with every voice heard and respected and nobody getting too greedy. On the album "Seraphic Light," musicians really engage with each other's ideas instead of falling back on stock responses almost as if this graceful abstract music makes a political statement after all - on the march, but subtle about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART III")

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure. He reviewed the album "Seraphic Light."

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SHIPP, WILLIAM PARKER AND DANIEL CARTER'S "SERAPHIC LIGHT PART III")

DAVIES: On tomorrow's show...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")

TONY SHALHOUB: (As Abe Weissman) You want a husband who will take a bullet for you, not one who points to the attic and says, they're up there.

DAVIES: Tony Shalhoub has been nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the Amazon comedy series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Shalhoub also starred in the TV series "Monk" and the film "Big Night." Hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACKY TERRASSON SONG, "LA VIE EN ROSE")

DAVIES: Fresh AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACKY TERRASSON SONG, "LA VIE EN ROSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.